John J. Carroll, SJ

On the occasion of the appointment of bishops for the new dioceses of Cubao, Caloocan, and Pasig, following on appointments to the other new dioceses of Novaliches and Parañaque, newspaper reports said that the division of the Archdiocese of Manila into six would “bring the Catholic hierarchy closer to the people of God.” Against this background it will probably be useful to review some of the data on the dioceses and on one large and often neglected segment of the people of God in Metro Manila:  the urban poor.
This focus on the poor is useful for a number of reasons. We know that 30 to 35 percent of the population of Metro Manila live in slum and squatter colonies, and 37 percent rate themselves as “poor” (SWS, March 2003).  In addition, twelve surveys conducted by Trends Inc. in the National Capital Region from May 1999 to April 2002, classified an average of 19.5 percent of respondents as belonging to the “E” or poorest class. The poor then constitute somewhere between one fifth and two fifths of the “people of God” in the metropolis, yet they are relatively invisible:  hidden away in squatter colonies where the better-off dare not go, scavenging in the night, working for a time on construction jobs and then disappearing once more. If they become visible, it is as illegal occupants of others property, sidewalk vendors blocking traffic, or as obstacles to be cleared away to make room for infrastructure projects. Only a tiny percentage of them, probably between 1 percent and 3 percent, go to Mass on Sunday; hence they are often invisible to the Church as well.
To help the Church and the new bishops see the poor, this research shows exactly where the poor are in the metropolis, what are their needs and expectations of the Church, and how the Church might respond more effectively to them.

The New Dioceses

First we shall look at the dioceses themselves, with their land areas, populations, and population densities. In most cases, entire municipalities are included within single dioceses. However, Quezon City is divided into the Diocese of Novaliches or northern Quezon City and the Diocese of Cubao or southern Quezon City; here the dividing line is Tandang Sora, Mactan, and Quirino Avenue.  Moreover, the Diocese of Novaliches includes North Caloocan City, while the Diocese of Kalamana (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas) or Caloocan includes South Caloocan City.
Table 1 gives the dimensions of the new dioceses in terms of land areas, population in the year 2000, and population density of the municipalities they include. Population density, or the number of persons residing in an area per square kilometer, can be a rough indicator of poverty or affluence since the poor generally live in crowded neighborhoods and the wealthiest neighborhood (e.g. Forbes Park) have wide lawns and open spaces between the homes.
A point of comparison for urban density figures is offered by the fact that Manhattan Island in New York City is the most densely populated area in the United States, with 26,978 inhabitants per square kilometer – and many of them residing in high-rise apartment buildings (Demographia, 2001).
A glance at the table will show that two municipalities have densities higher than that of Manhattan Island:  Manila with an astounding 63,243 as well as Mandaluyong. Four others – namely Caloocan, Navotas, Makati and Pasay – have densities above 20,000. Moreover, of these six most densely populated municipalities, four are part of the new Archdiocese of Manila, indicating a major pastoral challenge to that church. It will also be noted that the densities are less in the new dioceses of Pasig and Parañaque.
Other data indicate that the population growth rates were highest in Caloocan, Parañaque and Taguig for the period 1995 to 2000 while Manila, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Makati, Pasay, Malabon and Muntinlupa saw slight decreases in their population (Philippine Statistical Yearbook, 2002).  This would suggest that populated central areas to the peripheral areas especially in the south of the metropolis.

Where the poor are

Overall density figures for a municipality give only a first approximation for identifying the areas of urban poverty.  Very high densities, especially in places occupied by mainly one of two-storey houses, strongly suggest poverty, but lower overall densities could result from large open spaces, elite subdivisions, or industrial complexes, combined with congested residential areas. Hence, it is necessary to look more closely.
As part of a research project sponsored by Caritas Manila, we attempted precisely to look more closely. We began with maps provided by Trends Inc., on which at our request the “D” and “E” areas were marked in red – “D” and “E” being designations based mainly on housing types, for the upper and lower segments of the lower class.  These maps were helpful but turned out be insufficient for our purposes; it was necessary to supplement them by visits to the Urban Poor Affairs Offices of the cities and municipalities included in the new dioceses. Maps of the municipalities were obtained, and the staff of the Urban Poor Offices were asked to mark on them the poor areas in their municipalities. Additional areas were marked based on our own observations. Eventually these were all converted to individual maps of the municipalities, wall-size maps of the dioceses for use by the bishops, and an overall map of the six dioceses – each with the urban poor areas marked in red.

Tools for the Apostolate

The overall map, reproduced here, basically confirms the conclusions derived from urban density data, while locating the area of urban poverty more accurately. The red areas are most prominent in the Archdiocese of Manila, in the Diocese of Kalmana, and in parts of the Dioceses of Novaliches and Cubao. The accompanying wall-maps, in much larger scale, can – we hope – assist the new bishops in planning apostolates that will reach the economically deprived segments of the “people of God.”  Yet, since our sources of information varied in quality – some Urban Poor Offices may have been more assiduous than others in marking our maps – they should be confirmed and corrected by “ground-proofing” i.e. by physical visits to the areas marked as well as to those not marked.
These visits to poor areas of the dioceses, on the part of the new bishops and the respective parish priests, would not only confirm or modify our findings but also respond to the most common and urgent request of the groups which we interviewed for our research:  that the clergy visit them, talk with them, and – even more important – listen to them.  As stated in detail in the research reports for each of the dioceses, and summarized in an earlier Intersect article, thirteen focus group discussions conducted throughout the then six dioceses-to-be, revealed a very intense spirituality which reflected the pain and insecurity of their lives.
The “Church” for the participants in the discussions was a takbuhan, a building where they can   go to weep, to beg for help from the Lord, to confess their sins to Him, where they find peace and the strength to go on. Secondly, the “church” was seen as a teacher, showing them how to come closer to God and to each other. Jesus on the other hand is the one who understands them, who always hears their prayers, their guide and friend, who keeps them from sinning and even from committing suicide. Though they do not always go to Mass, they appreciate the Church for the assistance it gives them – even if this is only occasional – and for the guidance it gives to their children.
This listening to the poor on the part of the clergy could be the basis for a truly inculturated catechesis, beginning with the deeply felt and very real but uninstructed faith of simple people, a faith that is their only support in confronting the otherwise unmanageable problems of their lives. Listening to the poor could also be the basis for social-pastoral programs that truly respond to their needs.
Yet fully pastoral programs risk making the Christian message an “opium of the people” for those whose living conditions shocked even experienced researchers. Daily the urban poor struggle with insecurity of tenure and the threat of demolitions, joblessness, and of fire in their overcrowded slums. Their houses are built on stilts over fetid waters, along narrow and dangerous alleyways with incredibly cramped living quarters, noise and pollution all around them, They deal everyday with drug addicts and violence in the neighborhood and sickness in the family with no money for medicines. Only if the Church contribute to meeting immediate needs of the people in collaboration with local governments, the corporate foundations and the poor themselves and attack the structural injustices which lie at the roots of this misery, can it become truly a beacon of hope for the urban poor.
This is not an impossible dream. In our research we found examples of community-wide Church based projects that may not have exactly lifted the poor our of poverty, but have certainly made their lives more secure. But in these also, the first step is to visit the poor, even live with them and help them organize, so that they could articulate their needs and hopes. (Intersect, Vol.18,2003)